Let’s get this straight — the biggest financial institution based in this state is not renaming itself after an Egyptian political party from a century ago.
But there is some history — and perhaps some politics — behind the new name for Washington Federal, which operates 235 bank branches in eight states across the West and Southwest.
Meet WaFd Bank. It’s not pronounced the way it looks. There’s an invisible ‘E’ tucked into the second syllable.
WaFd Bank echoes the company stock’s longtime ticker symbol, WAFD (but it’s unrelated to the Wafd Party that led the fight for Egypt’s independence from the British).
As the bank expanded beyond Washington state into states like Texas and Utah, neither Washington nor Federal resonated well.
The bank decided it was time to drop both, says president and CEO Brent Beardall, because “clearly it caused some confusion in a number of markets, people wondering if we were part of the federal government.”
He adds: “Is it a credit union, is it a government agency? Research showed there was a lot of confusion.”
So why not write out WaFed? Again, Beardall says, “Not having the E was to distance ourselves from the Fed, the federal government.”
He notes that the bank has changed its name about five times since starting out in 1917 as Ballard Federal Savings & Loan Association. This time, “the most important change is we get the word bank in there.”
Will people understand how to pronounce WaFd? “Some will right off the bat and some will struggle with it but they’ll learn. For me it’s not a game changer either way,” he says. “We believe it will just be natural over time.”
But corporate naming expert Eli Altman, creative director at A Hundred Monkeys in Berkeley, California, and author of “Don’t Call it THAT,” is puzzled by the company’s choice.
He says the new name will cause confusion of another sort as people wrestle with how to verbalize it.
“A name that’s kind of caught between spelling it and pronouncing it puts people in a position where they’re not sure what to do.”
Altman, aware that employees and customers often did call it WaFed for short, says all clients will eventually figure it out, but “will they get there a lot faster if the name is WaFed with a vowel? 100%.”
“If they want people to say WaFed they should write that.”
WaFd execs say they’ll benefit from not having to squeeze Washington Federal onto digital signage and social media posts. They’re planning to change out the signs at branches over the next few months — including a new logo to replace the long green arc under its old name. The link for the bank’s website will change in October.
Customers can expect a letter about the new branding shortly. “It’s simpler, easier to say and it’s how many of our clients have referred to us for years,” an advance copy said. But if you’re not one of those customers, don’t expect directions on how to say it.